This fall, our nation watched in shock and horror as the surveillance video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, looped in seemingly endless rotation on thousands of platforms in our modern media era.
That single video conveyed a deeply painful moment for one family and a deeply powerful image for us all. And yet, as someone who has spent an entire career working on domestic violence and sexual assault, it is amazing to me that the nation was so mesmerized by one video documenting one act when this type of violence is so common in households and relationships across this country. The reality is that nearly every minute in the United States, 20 people suffer intimate partner violence. That adds up to more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year--a shame on our society that we all bear.
There is no question that the NFL mishandled the Rice matter. As Commissioner Roger Goodell said himself, they made mistakes. But in acknowledging those mistakes and addressing the issues inside the organization, the league is working to be part of the solution.
And while it took a terrible act caught on tape to do it, there is good emerging from that disturbing video and the missteps of the NFL this summer and fall.
Last week the NFL released its new Personal Conduct Policy. It details an expanded list of infractions compared to the 2007 policy, including actual or threatened physical violence against another person and assault or battery, including sexual assault and stalking, harassment or similar forms of intimidation. The disciplinary process, which was criticized for being vague and seemingly arbitrary in the 2007 policy, now explicitly details both the investigative procedures and the consequences for such infractions. For example, the policy sets a baseline suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault and states that certain aggravating circumstances could send that penalty higher.
The policy also includes a multitude of new services for survivors who are going through this, giving families the resources needed to be safe, to get counseling and to heal. Not only that, but league-funded counseling and treatment services are provided to the alleged perpetrator, giving that individual a possible path back through rehabilitation.
What this tells me, as an expert in this field, is that the NFL takes this problem seriously and has developed a response protocol that is not only tough, but also allows for all the complexities--including intense safety and financial fears--that make draconian, cookie-cutter, one-strike-and-you're-out responses to this violence seem appropriate, while they are in fact often counterproductive to reporting and physically dangerous to those being abused. And then there's the ongoing education process with all teams and NFL employees, through a required and powerful session on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, addressing basic definitions, warning signs, resources for help and how as collective bystanders we can all intervene.
The NFL is making a strong commitment to change their culture. And for an organization that commands the attention of nearly 65 percent of Americans each week, making such a step is a potential game changer--especially in a country where 65 percent of companies sadly have no formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy.
So, while it's easy to criticize the NFL, perhaps the rest of us should look within ourselves. These player incidents have thrust domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse issues into the national spotlight in an unprecedented way, but these incidents are hardly the beginning and end of the problem. Domestic violence and sexual assault permeate all strata of society. Can we all say that our own workplaces and communities are doing everything possible to prevent and respond to these issues effectively (or at all)?
The NFL's updated conduct policy is by no means a cure-all. But it is a step in the right direction. It clearly articulates consequences. It shows support for and provides resources to survivors. It tells the fan base that domestic violence and sexual assault are not ok under any circumstances--in the NFL or frankly in society at-large.
Let's all use this moment to drive broader change ourselves. The 20 people each minute who are suffering in the shadows, outside the glare of cameras, deserve no less.